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Something must be done about the surge in short-term lets on Airbnb - or we will be left facing a housing disaster

Hannah Williams
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High Street Shopping In Decline
The London rental market is becoming an increasingly gloomy space (Source: Getty)

Just when it seemed news for renters couldn't get any worse - it has.

Figures out today from the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) show that a surge in the numbers of short-term lets on Airbnb could be having dire consequences for renters in London.

In the four months from February to June this year London Airbnb listings had increased 27 per cent from 33,715 to 42,646 with the majority of entire properties to let – 61 per cent – now available for more than three months a year.

The RLA is concerned that this huge upswing in short-term lets is being driven by landlords taking properties they had previously rented to long-term tenants, instead using them as lucrative holiday lets.

Given the serious lack of available rental homes in London (and throughout the UK) this is obviously potentially catastrophic. More people now rent their home in the UK than at any other time since the 1970s. We need more homes for renters than before and anything which sees the rental housing stock plummet is a huge problem that needs to be addressed.

Read more: UK housing market crisis deepens as new listings dwindle

As someone working in the property market, I’m all too aware of the hugely variable quality of rental properties in the capital and today’s figures make me very worried that the properties now finding their way onto Airbnb are precisely the well maintained, quality places that so many Londoners would love to call home but can’t.

Why do I think this? Because Airbnb actively incentivises landlords to provide high quality properties by asking users to review places they’ve rented. Unfortunately no such incentives exist for landlords renting to long-term tenants.

If you’re a rogue landlord, letting out an airless, mouldy basement with no mod cons, you’d be unlikely to make a success of letting your place on Airbnb for this reason.

You’d do better to rent it out to a hapless tenant looking for a long-term home, and you’d have little to fear in doing so owing to the paucity of legislation that exists to protect tenants in this country. It’s not, for example, currently illegal to rent out a home that is unfit for human habitation. Madness.

Read more: How deregulated "slums" can solve the shortage of homes for renters

What can be done about this? Well, we can of course tighten up the way we enforce existing regulations.

Planning permission is needed for short term holiday lets in London which are available for over 90 days in any given year. We can hazard a guess that some of the properties currently being let short-term will contravene this rule, and we must clamp down on this as a matter of urgency.

But how about we also apply the same scrutiny we currently give to short term lets to long term private rental properties?

Sadiq Khan pledged back in March that he would "name and shame" landlords who had been convicted of housing-related offences as he outlined plans for an online database of landlords who had been successfully prosecuted for housing-related offences. We desperately need this to happen so house-hunters in the capital can make an informed choice instead of hoping for the best.

If we don’t act now and put improving the private rental sector at the top of our collective to-do list, we will be facing a housing disaster in the near future.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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